Manuel Lin Miranda’s box office smash Hamilton, playing at the Victoria Palace in London, is a theatrical phenomenon. Musicals being ‘current’ and ‘relevant’ has become almost cliched but with a Trump administration in the White House full of anti-immigrant rhetoric, this show feels razor sharp and bang on the money. No wonder this sung-through story of a “ten dollar founding father without a father” continues to gain traction with young audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. It feels like an event: the sense of anticipation before curtain-up is more reminiscent of a concert than a night in the theatre.
Hamilton does not tell our foundation story. In fact, we’re on the losing side of history when it comes to the American Revolutionary War. But this hasn’t stopped British audiences from creating huge ticket demand to witness the story of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington’s right-hand man and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary.
Directed by Thomas Kail, Hamilton started life as a hip-hop album and, over six years, gradually morphed into a full-blown musical. It’s a layered, inventive and exuberant show, brilliantly distilling an 800-page biography and almost 30 years of American history into two hours and 45 minutes of high-octane theatre. Fusing hip-hop, rap, classic theatrical numbers and a wide range of other genres, the hugely talented cast powerfully capture a tumultuous period in American history which saw a break from British Empire rule and the creation of a republic.
The attention to historical integrity marks this musical out as a modern masterpiece but, like many pieces of great art, I suspect it gets better the more you know it. I’ve been listening to the album ever since seeing it and both need and want to go back. Advance ticket sales suggest I’m not alone.
Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is slick, which it has to be to keep up with the rapid delivery of the musical numbers, all poetic and perfectly judged. It is written with such skill and economy: the internal rhymes and rhythms are often breath-taking. Jamael Westman (a newcomer and recent drama school graduate) has both the voice and stage presence to lead the company in the ‘young, scrappy and hungry’ title role. He’s supported by a diverse cast: the founding fathers are all played by black, Latino, Asian and mixed-race actors. The raucous reception to one of the show’s most famous lines – “immigrants, we get the job done” – is loaded with political resonance, whether connected in the audience imagination to the current US President or the Brexit debacle at home. Either way, it feels current and important.
Special mention must go to Jon Robyns for his delightfully comic performance as King George III, delivering hit number ‘You’ll Be Back’ in perfectly crisp and clipped tones.
Clocking in at 46 songs, this is one hell of a musical journey. The opening number electrifies, neatly summarising Hamilton’s journey from the Caribbean island of Nevis to New York. Years of history are condensed into lines of poetry as the story of Hamilton’s rise to power unfolds. It’s an exciting ride but if you’re not entering the theatre with a reasonable grasp of US political history be ready to concentrate. The lyrics come thick and fast and, for the uninitiated, could feel overwhelming. It’s well worth listening to the soundtrack a few times before entering the theatre: like Shakespeare, familiarity with the plot and characters are likely to enhance the experience.
If there are a million things you haven’t done, prioritise getting your hands on a ticket to this show. You won’t be disappointed.
Hamilton is playing at the Victoria Palace in London. Tickets currently on sale to September 28 2019. Join official social media channels for the latest news of ticket releases.